When bombs hit Pearl Harbor 71 years ago Friday, Ray Parker immediately enlisted. During the war, his B-24 was shot down and he survived a German POW camp, running an underground newspaper. Parker was among the veterans who gathered in Santa Monica Friday to remember the "day that would live in infamy." Patrick Healy reports from Santa Monica for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Dec. 7, 2012.
When bombs hit Pearl Harbor 71 years ago Friday, Ray Parker immediately enlisted. During the war, his B-24 was shot down and he survived a German POW camp, running an underground newspaper.
Now 89 years old, Parker remembers the "total jumble and panic" that ensued when word of the attack first reached Los Angeles. Parker was the copy boy at LA's Examiner newspaper during the graveyard shift that Sunday morning.
"Suddenly the teletypes go off," he recalled.
Then the phones began ringing. Before that morning he had never heard of Pearl Harbor, but he learned quickly.
"It was a totally unexpected attack and they succeeded," he said.
Imperial Japanese fighter planes devastated the Hawaiian headquarters of the U.S. Pacific fleet, sinking battleships, destroying airplanes and killing more than 2,000 Americans.
Even before a then-18-year-old Parker knew the details of the attack that triggered the entry of the United States into World War II, he realized that morning it was his duty and honor to enlist. He chose the Army Air Corps.
It being Sunday, he had to wait a day.
"Everyone took this war seriously and lined up at recruiting stations the day after Pearl Harbor," he said.
That was the day then-President Franklin Roosevelt referred to the "date that will live in infamy" as he asked Congress for a declaration of war.
Parker was among those sharing remembrances Friday – the 71st anniversary of the attack – at Santa Monica's Wise and Healthy Aging Center.
The war having been a rite of passage for his generation, Parker is but one of several World War II veterans who attend events at the Center on a regular basis. William Reed, Ernest Barnes and Norman Borisoff also all saw combat.
Many of the women present recalled how America pulled together on the home front.
Akiko Mitsui had a different perspective as a first generation Japanese-American. Then in junior high school, she and her parents were sent to an internment camp for the war's duration while her brothers served in the army. "Isn't it crazy? Yeah," she said. "Luckily, none of them were killed."
As a flight navigator, Parker flew eight successful combat missions over Europe. On the night in 1944 his B-24 was shot down by machine gun fire, his co-pilot was killed.
"I could feel the bullets hitting the side," he recalled. His book, "Down in Flames," described tumbling from the sky. He marvels that he survived, not having had time to completely cinch up all the straps of his parachute harness.
As German forces closed in, Parker tried to hide under some leaves, but was found and captured. He was held the rest of the war in a German POW camp.
When the ranking U.S. officer learned Parker had worked at a newspaper, he was placed in charge of writing the underground publication distributed clandestinely to the POWs. The information for it was gleaned by listening to a radio hidden from the camp guards.
"It was almost like Hogan's Heroes," chuckled Parker, referring to the 1960's TV sitcom that portrayed Nazis as buffoons.
Parker himself would work in 1960s television after returning to civilian life. He connected with popular TV host Art Linkletter, and served as the chief writer for Linkletter's show, House Party.
For years after the war, Parker now realizes, he suffered from what was later described as PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder.
Three months before the end of the war, prison guards had discovered his underground newsletter. Parker was put in solitary confinement with the expectation every day that he would be executed. Then one day, the guards disappeared as Allied Forces from the Russian Army arrived.
The prisoners had to remain in camp until Germany formally surrendered, but Parker remembers the Russian commander telling him he could resume writing his newsletter.
Reflecting on his experience seven decades later, Parker observed, "I don't think Americans want to fight war. We did so only because we were attacked. I suspect that's still the case."